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The Odd Truth, Dec. 15, 2003

The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.


Caroling Record Broken

NEW YORK - Hundreds of Christmas carolers in New York City have broken the Guinness World Record for the largest carol service.

519 people sang everything from "Jingle Bells," to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," for more than 16 minutes. The old record was 517 people, which was set last year in the same New York City spot.

For one participant the event fulfilled a lifelong dream. The exchange student from England says she always wanted to be in the Guinness Book of World Records, but she says "I don't have any particular skills. I don't even sing that well."

The sing-a-long was put together by the Broadway musical "A Christmas Carol," with some of the cast leading the singers.

Town Offended By 'Vagina'

BLUFFTON, S.C. - The name "The Vagina Monologues" doesn't suit Bluffton, so the town won't let the footlights shine on the play.

Town clerk Sandra Lunceford turned down the request for a one-night use of Ulmer Auditorium at Town Hall mostly because of the name of the production.

"I'm thinking more about the children; they would see those posters up everywhere," Lunceford said.

Eve Ensler's off-Broadway play, written in 1996, is based on a series of interviews about real-life joys and problems of being a woman. It celebrates female sexuality and explores issues such as sexual violence against women.

Actor and director Gail Westerfield wanted to put on the Obie Award-winning play as a charity fund-raiser for the Rape Crisis Center of the Lowcountry and Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse.

Jillian Walzer, Westerfield's production company partner, offered to provide details about the play and which charities would benefit from the production but was told that wouldn't make a difference.

"We have the right to say what comes here," Lunceford said last week.

It Beats A Frozen Turkey

PITTSFIELD, Maine - Workers at a shoe plant were feeling more than a little tickled when they got their Christmas bonuses that, for some, totaled nearly $20,000.

Instead of receiving typical end-of-year frozen turkeys, the 200 employees of the SAS Shoemakers plant here were handed envelopes when they were called together Friday afternoon.

When Lawrence Wyman opened his, he found a check for $19,000. His wife, Charlene, got a check for the same amount.

The company this year awarded its employees with bonuses of $1,000 for every year worked at the company. Even those who had worked less than a year got $500 each.

The bonuses were particularly uplifting given that most news in the manufacturing sector this year has been about plants closing and employees being laid off.

"They called us all together and said we would each get $1,000," Lawrence Wyman said. "Everyone started clapping and then they said it would be $1,000 for each year worked."

And that's when the tears flowed. Some estimated that the bonuses totaled $200,000 or more.

SAS Pittsfield is a division of SAS Shoemakers in San Antonio. The corporate offices were closed Friday afternoon and company officials could not be reached for comment.

Garbage Plant Hits Jackpot

TOKYO - A garbage disposal plant in central Japan has hit the jackpot.

Operations at the plant suddenly came to a halt Friday morning when a machine used to crush refuse began spewing out 10,000 yen-bills ($93) onto a conveyor belt.

In total, some 31 million yen ($287,000) had found its way into the garbage, Gyoda city police said Saturday.

Police, shown by public broadcaster NHK, sifted through the some 3,200 soiled bills strewn across the floor, patching together the torn pieces with tape and piling them onto a banquet-sized table to be counted.

"I got the creeps - it was kind of scary. You expect garbage but you never imagine money to come out," said one unidentified employee interviewed by NHK.

No one has come forward to claim the money, and police are trying to track down the owner. If the money is not claimed within six months, it will go to Gyoda city, which owns the plant, police said.

Gyoda lies just northwest of Tokyo in neighboring Saitama prefecture.

Grinch Charged In Christmas Theft

MIAMI - The FBI has charged a Christmas pageant promoter with fraud after thousands of children who paid $10 each to attend his show arrived in busloads to find a shuttered building and the promoter missing with their money.

David Lee Ellisor, 52, was charged with mail fraud Thursday and an arrest warrant was issued. He remained at large Friday, said FBI spokeswoman Beverly Esselbach.

Ellisor had planned to scam the students, federal authorities said.

"The record indicates that he had no intention of ever putting on this show," said Angel Cortinas, economic crimes chief at the U.S. attorney's office.

Schools paid as much as $1,300 for their students to attend the "Christmas From Around the World" show set for Dec. 3-5, and the Archdiocese of Miami paid $14,000 to send students from seven Roman Catholic schools.

Bank records seized by the FBI show that Ellisor repeatedly withdrew cash and wrote more than $15,000 in checks from a bank account he had set up for the event.

The money was spent on items including wine, movie rentals, dry cleaning, sunglasses and lodging.

Ellisor used the FedEx account number from two Christmas Palace stores without the owner's permission to send about 25 packages with letters, fliers and raffle tickets to the schools, the FBI said.

World's Largest Book

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts - Maybe you can tell a book by its cover - or at least its weight. At 133 pounds, "Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Kingdom" isn't a light read. According to Guinness people, the book is the world's largest. It's also among the most expensive at $10,000 a copy. Author Michael Hawley will formally unveil his massive masterpiece today at the Explorers Club in New York. The book is a high-tech photographic journey through the Asian country. The digitally-printed photos measure five-feet by seven-feet. There are 112 pages and each copy uses a football-field length of paper. Hawley says his isn't a bedtime book - unless you want to sleep on it. Hawley adds the sales of his big book will benefit Friendly Planet, a charity that supports schools in Bhutan and Cambodia.

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